Political Geology

Geology matters! Political geology entails a two-fold research focus: It scrutinizes the way the geological evolves as an object of politics; and, it examines how the geological itself affects political dynamics at the surface. Our research scrutinizes the profound reworking of human-Earth relations ongoing at present and the political dynamics it involves. It sheds light on the political interplay between materiality, spatiality and temporality in the ongoing transformation of geosocial relations and the manifold uncertainties this involves. Moving beyond a narrow analysis of politics at the surface, it takes seriouslya “geological turn” in geography and the social sciences more broadly by connecting empirical and theoretical research on the theme.

Our research projects in Political Geology

  • Nuclear Strata: The Political Geology of Nuclear Waste Governance (NUCSTRAT)
    • Project Description

      Deep geological disposal is considered the solution for nuclear waste from civil nuclear energy production. It is based on the idea that nuclear waste can be safely disposed in a suitable geological stratum-so that no human action is needed in the future. Although current and future societies will increasingly depend on geology, the way in which actors conceive subterranean strata and how such conceptions of geosocial relations affect nuclear waste governance has hardly been researched. The project Nuclear Strata: The Political Geology of Nuclear Waste Governance (NUCSTRAT) fills this gap.NUCSTRAT’s overall research objective is to unearth the geological dimension of nuclear waste governance. For examining the political significance of ideas about subterranean strata, it poses the research question: How are geosocial strata produced in nuclear waste governance processes? To answer this question, NUCSTRAT scrutinizes how scientific knowledge about the subterranean is communicated towards the public, and how this is mediated and contested. It examines ethnographically how subterranean strata manifest and consolidate in discursive and material form at various science-society interfaces at the surface. Based on a comparative research design, NUCSTRAT focuses on three case studies, each representing a long history of site explorations in a specific host rock formation-clay in Switzerland, salt in Germany and granite in Sweden. The comparative analysis acknowledges variations of the geological conditions of host rocks and levels of trust in scientific authority. As such, NUCSTRAT will provide important insights into how consent is fostered, or contestations are inspired, depending on generic, as well as country-specific political and geological circumstances.NUCSTRAT is hosted at the Department of Geosciences of the University of Fribourg, a strategic hub at the intersection of social science and geoscience research. Research will be carried out by the applicant and two PhD students, who will triangulate a set of qualitative research methods over 38 months of ethnographic fieldwork in the three respective countries. Theoretically, all case studies will employ a set of interrelated concepts-strata, vertical territory and interscalar vehicles-to better understand the spatio-temporal assemblage of geosocial strata. A strong international team of social scientists will bring together methodological skills, theoretical expertise, and long-term experience in nuclear waste governance research in the comparative analysis of the three cases. NUCSTRAT examines the co-constitution of the Earth’s stratified composition and the formation of (post-)nuclear nation-states, exemplifying the profound reworking of human-subterranean relations. NUCSTRAT contributes to the geological turn in the social sciences and to the institutionalization of political geology research on the subterranean in the field of geography in Switzerland. Strengthening this research orientation is particularly pressing for societies in light of ongoing political struggles about human-subterranean relations in fields of waste disposal, but also resource extraction, geothermal energy generation or carbon capture and storage.

    Project members: 

     Dr. Rony Emmenegger

    Alexander Kolibaba

    Martin Gustav Edström




Our team members in Political Geology